Philadelphia police to boost response after shooting death of Black man sparks unrest

Neighborhood residents shout at police outside the 18th District police station in Philadelphia.   | Photo Credit: AP

Philadelphia will deploy additional police officers and has asked surrounding regions for law enforcement support as it braces for further unrest on Tuesday sparked by the police killing of a Black man, the police commissioner said.

Protests erupted on Monday following the death of 27-year-old Walter Wallace, who was shot multiple times by two police officers who were instructing him to back off and to put down a knife, a bystander's video shared on social media shows.

While the demonstrations began peacefully on Monday at Malcolm X Park on the west side of the city, they later turned violent, causing significant damage to businesses and leading to 91 arrests, commissioner Danielle Outlaw told a briefing.

“For today and this evening we anticipate the chance of additional incidents of civil unrest and as such we will be taking additional steps to ensure order,” Outlaw said, adding that she had asked surrounding counties for help.

“Roving and static officer details that are part of the looting response team will also be deployed to commercial districts and other key locations throughout the city.”

The violence is the latest in months of anti-racism protests across the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the video of the shooting presented “difficult questions” about the actions of the officers. “Last night we saw further evidence of the anguish of Black and Brown residents of our city who have struggled their entire lives under systemic racism,” he told the briefing.

But he also expressed sympathy for the officers injured in the protests and for the business owners whose shops were damaged, much of it along the bustling 52nd Street on the city's west side. He stressed that the law would be enforced.

“Vandalism and looting is not an acceptable form of First Amendment expression,” Kenney said, referring to the constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech.

Outlaw said a total of 91 arrests have been made, including 11 for assaulting officers and 76 for burglaries. Of the 30 officers injured, 29 were in stable condition after mainly being hit by bricks and other projectiles. One officer who was run over by a truck was being treated in a hospital, Outlaw said.

Video taken by a bystander and shared widely on social media showed Wallace approaching two police officers who drew their guns after warning him to put down the knife. The video shows the officers backing up, then cuts briefly from view as gunfire erupts and Wallace is shown slumping to the pavement.

Chief Inspector Frank Vanore said the police had responded to a call about a man screaming who was armed with a knife, and that each officer fired about seven rounds. But he declined to go into further detail, citing the ongoing investigation.

John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, defended the officers in a statement.

“Our police officers are being vilified for doing their job and keeping the community safe, after being confronted by a man with a knife. We support and defend these officers, as they too are traumatized by being involved in a fatal shooting.”

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 10:15:52 PM |

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